Just as the government’s expectations from Bachelet’s visit are clear, the global human rights groups also voiced their demands in advance. On 10 August, 9 human rights organisations openly called for the UN human rights high commissioner Michelle Bachelet, during her Bangladesh trip, to openly call for an immediate halt to extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and other incidents of human rights violations. The statement issued by those organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that if Michelle Bachelet does not clearly condemn those human rights violations during her visit and call for a change, then the Awami League government will use her silence as a legitimisation of these incidents.

Undoubtedly, Ms Bachelet’s nine-page statement was drawn up in keeping with diplomatic norms, but it hardly appeased the government. Three or four important ministers of the government met with her separately and explained the government’s position on, in their words, “the misconception and allegations of many concerning current affairs including enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing and the Digital Security Act.”

Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen told the high commissioner that there were 2,800 media outlets in his ‘paradise’. Law minister Anisul Huq went a step further, saying, “Do we go at night and strangle the newspapers?” Annoyed at the human rights organisations for apprising the high commissioner of their allegations, the minister said, “They could hold these meetings because Bangladesh is not a police state.” In order to convince her that the allegations of enforced disappearance were baseless, the home minister resorted to that old narrative that the missing persons were fugitives, intentionally being highlighted as victims of enforced disappearance in order to evade creditors, family feuds or court cases.

Over the years, around a dozen special rapporteurs, specialists on human rights issues, have repeatedly requested permission to visit Bangladesh to see the situation for themselves, but the government has failed to respond

Broadly speaking, in her statement at the end of her visit, Michelle Bachelet said that she was deeply concerned about the allegations of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killing, torture and other serious human rights violations. She called for a neutral, independent and transparent investigation into these allegations, saying that her office, that is, the UN, was ready to provide support for carrying out such investigations independently.

They can also provide support for training of members of the law enforcement. She also mentioned the involvement of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in these serious allegations. Given the US sanctions against RAB for these very same allegations, her concern cannot be overlooked. She also emphasised the special importance of members of the security forces in protecting human rights, given their high numbers in UN peacekeeping. The question is, even after this statement will the ministers not admit that their implausible statements were nothing but a mockery?

Her office presented the government with recommendations about the Digital Security Act which was obstructing freedom of expression, and ways to control fake news and instigation on the digital platforms. She hoped the government would take up those recommendations. Her statement also called upon the government to consult with various human rights organisations and to take support from the UN in order to ensure international standards when it drew up the data protection act and the OTT law regarding content on the various internet platforms. She spoke of shrinking space for various civil society programmes and freedom of expression, highlighting the importance of such groups in the advancement of the nation. This statement is particularly pertinent in light of the allegations of mistreatment of the human rights organisations.

The high commissioner’s statement did not miss the issue of elections and dialogue with political parties and civil society groups. It is most important to uphold the rights of the opposition, journalists and human rights activists during the elections to speak out regarding political and citizens’ rights, to hold peaceful rallies and to assemble. The statement also stressed on the need for training of the law enforcement so that they didn’t exert excessive force to control protests. Ms Bachelet also said that it was important to increase the opportunities for dialogue among the political parties so that the suppressed protests did not burst out in an explosion.

Over the years, around a dozen special rapporteurs, specialists on human rights issues, have repeatedly requested permission to visit Bangladesh to see the situation for themselves, but the government has failed to respond. Yet Michelle Bachelet was invited to visit. It will not be wrong to speculate that the government had hoped that she would give some hope about the Rohingya issue. However, after exchanging views with the Rohingyas, not only did she say they must wait for the situation to be conducive for their return, but also said that with the elections ahead and also the economic crisis, Rohingya-hatred must not be spread. She also requested that Rohingyas be given opportunities for education and employment.

While the government may not be able to claim Ms Bachelet’s visit a diplomatic success, they can at least console themselves that she didn’t go to the point of expressing ‘clear condemnation’ as demanded by the global human rights groups. The UN human rights commission also did not speak of taking up its own investigation process as called for by opposition BNP, the families of enforced disappearance victims and local human rights organisations. It had done so in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The Sweden-based Netra News had released an investigative documentary video report on a secret room or cell of the intelligence, ‘Ainaghorer Bondi’ before the UN official’s visit. BNP requested the UN to investigate the matter. More important than whether the expectations of the various quarters were met by Ms Bachelet’s visit, is whether it will cause any change in the protection of the people’s rights or not. She had been criticised earlier for a failed trip to China, so in that sense, this is now an important question.

· Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist.

· This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir